Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Live Review: Counting Crows & Match Box 20 Bristow, VA 9/3/17

A Brief History of Everything Tour: Counting Crows & Matchbox 20
9/3/17 Bristow, VA Jiffy Lube Live
We had just pulled into the parking lot of Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia when the woman suddenly lost it.

“Get me the hell out of here…you’ve tricked me!”

The crushed gravel parking lot. The adjacent heavy equipment dealer advertising “discount bulldozers.”

Under normal circumstances I would indulge the ceaseless charade of “What fresh crazy is this?” Only in this moment I was too busy playing hopscotch with the brake. No choice. White people wandered the parking lot with zero regard for their personal safety. Pale, portly, possibly intoxicated and with folding lawn chairs slung underarm, they were like some new breed of zombie trying to remember what it was once like to be an American. And the white zombies were everywhere. Wombies. Self-absorbed but unfocused. Angry without immediate cause. Every now and then you’d see the confused Wombies bump into each other and exchange pleading glances, “Is this what we used to do…you know…before?”

Yes, before…but before what? The new Millennium? 9/11? Obama? The curious thing about the American Wombie is that its deep-seeded rage means something different to each of them. This kaleidoscope anger—properly bottled—was once the jiffy lube America needed to rout the Germans, check Japan, settle the west, and build a multi-billion dollar myth machine out there in Hollywood to keep us all properly branded and in the herd. Focused rage can be extremely productive.

Unfocused rage, however...

“You’ve brought me to a Donald Trump rally.”

“Cute…but as you’ll see on your ticket, this is The History of Everything Tour: Featuring the Counting Crows and Matchbox 20.”

The woman was unmoved. “Whatever. Counting Crows. Donald Trump. Either way I’m listening to some old white dude with crazy hair whining to a crowd. Some-fucking-Labor Day.”

Yes. Some. Fucking. Labor Day.

As the exclamation point on summer, Labor Day Weekend is our national ritual in nostalgia. With autumn bearing down and winter coming, we’re supposed to look back and take measure of the passing summer, and all the summers that came before. For your hapless correspondent, however, this summer was spent on the road. Normally the road is bliss. The road is sublime. The road is where the great mysteries of life unravel through motion; the road is the place of nameless highway towns where hotel rooms serve as the ashrams of America—reminding one that there is nothing like an unfamiliar pillow to recover your dreams. But for once the road didn’t work. And that makes sense.

Nothing in America works anymore. The Hollywood myth-machine no longer tells us how to the think and feel (unless you are a cartoon or a Marvel superhero), and Washington, the ugly man’s Hollywood, is the place that without the slightest sense of irony exacerbates more national anxieties and heart conditions all in the name of…improving healthcare.

Which explains, in part, why we find ourselves in a time when 20,000 people will descend upon a third-rate, backcountry amphitheater to see two bands that represent the undercards of the 1990s.

The 1990s—good grief… 

If you lived them, then you understand why this sudden and reflexive 90s nostalgia is revolting. An act of historical revisionism to the extreme. Only in 2017 can we reflect fondly upon an era that gave us school shootings, the Internet, mass depression, box stores, domestic bombings, militias, OJ Simpson, cable news, and Monica Lewinsky. It was an age in which legalese became Main Street slang: “That depends on what your definition of IS, is.” 

The 1990s weren’t an age of pastoral splendor. They were the age of Bubba—the last moment when the central preoccupation of American pop culture was the anxieties and foibles of white dudes.

The 1990s…

The Cold War suddenly ended. Poof! After a half-century of institutionalized paranoia, red scares, and the belief that it would all end in nuclear annihilation… suddenly it ended and we were supposed to forget about it. Don’t look behind the curtain. “Nevermind all that!” Nevermind, indeed. Don’t think about it. Because with the lights out, it’s less dangerous, here we are now, entertain us. And the nation followed its marching orders, right into more cable channels and cell phones. The Cold War’s over! Not with a boom, but a Poof! Only unlike hot wars, at the end of the Cold War there were no returning soldiers. No ticker tape parades. No Jazz Age to celebrate the frivolity of a life removed from the trenches. None of that. The echoes of this war—this Cold War— weren’t contained in the tortured minds of returning soldiers, they were emblazoned like a residue on the American psyche.

The paranoia and the futility lingered as an unspoken national mental illness.

Guns N Roses disappeared. Eddie Vedder arrived with unfocused anger. Kurt Cobain hit the scene just long enough to change music before blowing his brains out. Alice in Chains. Soundgarden. It was labeled “grunge music,” and grunge is the sound of white men with no wars to fight and no cultural myths left to preserve. What American culture became, for a time, was a psychological review of the White Male when his work was done and the “big picture” for which he toils is put into the shredder.

Which brings us right back to the Counting Crows and Matchbox 20: two bands that in their prime weren’t drawing crowds of 20,000. They were? Well they shouldn't have been.

The Counting Crows opened the show—and it smacked of all those Bob Dylan shows in the immediate years before the Time Out Of Mind renaissance. Norman Mailer once remarked that Truman Capote “wrote the most perfect sentences in the English language.” The same could be said of Crows front man Adam Duritz, whose lyrical stanzas can be near perfect. He was the finest lyricist working in the ten-year stretch from 1993 to 2003. Yet now, at 53, his underwhelming performance was his own recognition that he has nothing to share with humanoids, nor has he found his footing up here in the future. Instead, attending a Counting Crows show at an open-air summer venue in 2017 is like replacing the Super Bowl half time show with a poetry reading.

Matchbox 20 took the stage exactly as they had twenty years earlier: with Rob Thomas front and center, urging the “Real World” to just stop hassling him. Remember that one? After the 1990's initially gave us a series of rock stars that committed suicide on principle, here was a guy whose top-ranked music video featured him in hoop earrings and eye shadow leading a camel around a bowling alley while sharing all of his idle curiosities. The video was shot with a hyper genic tobacco filter lens. Behind this lens, he wondered aloud what it would be like to be the “rainmaker,” to be the “head honcho,” to be a “superhero.” The first time you heard it, you wondered who gave the mimbo from Arizona State University the microphone. It was as if, just for shits and gigs, a record producer waltzed into a Florida trailer park, pulled Rob aside and handed him a Yvez Saint Laurent shirt, and told him to try real hard to write his own version of “Mr. Jones.” Presto! Cue the “Real World,” the lead track on a debut album that went on to sell 12 million copies across the late 1990's.

And this post-grunge prancery was tonic to the Wombies, before they knew that their time was over. And now…20,000 of them went crazy as Rob opened the show right where it all began.

Only Rob is…deeper than all of that, as the rest of the show would demonstrate. Rob Thomas feels things and thinks things that matter to him, and a lot of other people, too. Only for Rob, the real trouble in this world is not war, poverty, strife, social injustice…most of the troubles in this world all lead back to one antagonist: emotionally-abusive white women.

"3AM" was about his reckless mother. “She said it’s all gonna end and it might as well be my fault…” "Push" was about an emotionally-abusive ex-girlfriend. “She said I don’t know if I’ve ever been really loved…” It doesn’t take a deep spell of inferential thinking to guess where he summoned the inspiration for subsequent hits like “She’s So Mean.”

Only you had to hand it to Rob. As he worked through the massive catalogue of Matchbox 20 hits, he put on one of the most entertainingly-schizophrenic performances I have ever seen. While working through tracks like “Unwell,” “Back 2 Good” and “Girl Like That,” he would lose himself in the music. His tortured, serial killer’s eyes were simulcast on giant video screens for the crowd to understand just how much pain was his, just how on edge he is…and then it would happen… The song would end and he’d immediately snap from focused rage to sharing boisterous and upbeat pleasantries.

“Are we all having a good time tonight? It’s about to get better!”
“We’re here together to have fun for the next 90 minutes!”
“There’s a lot of military in the audience tonight…I want to thank them for their service!!”

And then…snap!...the guitars and drums flare up, his smile washes away, and Rob is right back to being super sad and angst ridden and looking like he might turn an assault rifle on everyone in the audience—and the Wombies loved it.

It was like watching a corporate pitchman experiment with contrasting personality drugs, one right after the other in double-time. And in these moments of rapid emotional transition, the bi-polarity and the exporting of blame for all of his troubles, one thing became clear: Rob Thomas is the whitest man in America.

The Wombies were eating this stuff up. And as your hapless correspondent turned to apologize for this experience to the angry woman at his side, he was stunned to discover that after all her protests…she was totally into this. Dancing, Chortling, and it seemed in a way that words can’t quite capture…licking her lips. Rob’s chiseled biceps, Rob’s metrosexual couture…it was like he was speaking directly to her. As if he were the first person—ever—to truly understand the architecture of her mind.

“Yes! Yes! Sing it louder! I AM so mean! I DO want to Push you around and crash you down! I want nothing more than to take you for granted!”

And not for the first time this year I found myself…jaw agape… looking at a stage and reminded that the most successful people on Earth Version 2017 may very well be absolute fucking idiots. For there stood a prophet, and one who cracked the code on the female mind and gave us a glimpse two decades into the future.

And all he ever asked of us was for the “real world” to just stop hassling him.

Well, so be it. Today, you can swipe left on your phone and have the nearest sex-crazed woman deliver herself to your house. You can play a show to 20,000 Wombies in the sticks of Virginia. You can be unemployed and yet bark orders at a personal assistant coquettishly named “Alexa.” And, of course, Donald Trump is president of the United States of America.

Congratulations Rob, oh wise prophet from Florida. You won. The real world has stopped hassling you, and everyone else.
Support both bands and peep some video below from both bands live on this tour:

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